Israelis, In God’s Name, Why?

IDF’s current (2017) armored fighting vehicles, clockwise: IDF Namer, IDF Caterpillar D9, M270 MLRS and Merkava Mk 4M. Photograph Source: MathKnight-at-TAU – CC BY-SA 4.0

“The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust is a time to mourn those who disappeared and to reflect upon the choice of the individuals and governments that allowed this genocide to unfold. It is also a call for vigilance and for action, to address the root causes of hatred and prevent future atrocities from happening.” — Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, January 27, 2021

On January 27, 2021, the day UNESCO led the world in commemorating The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Israeli government’s military forces, better known as the Israel Defense Forces (dubbed by the Israeli Government as “the most moral army in the world”), oversaw and orchestrated the obliteration of over ten thousand (10,000) trees in Occupied Palestine.

On January 28, 2021, Middle East Monitor reported that on January 27, 2021 “The Israeli army yesterday destroyed a natural reserve and uprooted at least 10,000 trees in a military campaign in the northern West Bank in a move that Palestinians termed a ‘crime.’”   Palestinian official  Moataz Bisharat, “who is responsible for monitoring Israeli settlement activity in the Jordan Valley, told Anadolu Agency that the occupation army [Israeli army] pushed military vehicles and dozens of soldiers into the Ainun area in Tubas city in the morning and destroyed a nature reserve built on an area of about 400 dunums (98 acres).”

Bisharat further stated that this nature sanctuary planted some eight years back, was a supervised agricultural Greening of Palestine project overseen by the Palestinian Ministry of agriculture. Included in this list of the unconscionably demolished biodiverse forest, Bisharat lamented the destruction of some 350 olive trees. This nature preserve, he especially bemoaned, “is not more than 300 meters away from residential areas and it served as an ‘outlet’ for residents.”

In God’s name, what reason/explanation/excuse did the Israeli government and its Most Moral Army in the World have to justify destroying a forested 98 acre natural preserve in which those living under a brutal Nazi-like occupation find respite, solace and refuge from the daily brutalities they have to endure?

And I wonder, why, of all the days that this dastardly criminal act could have been committed, did those who suffered the anguishing woes of Nazi atrocities, commit a genocidal environmental crime on the same day the UNESCO admonished the world to pay tribute to Holocaust survivors by holding a 76th commemorative event?

The tragically impotent and emasculated Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission stated that Israel “has formed a special unit whose mission is to wage war on the Jordan Valley.”

Further, the statement read that “A [Israeli] security apparatus has been formed to oversee construction and agriculture in Area C and it has undertaken to wipe out the Palestinian presence.” The commission described the incident as “a crime and a campaign of eliminating trees, buildings, livestock and sources of income.” The statement further added that this parallel war on the Palestinian natural landscape and its fragile biodiverse vegetation and greenery is “part of a war waged by a terrorist state [Israel] that is burning green areas.”

Is this Israeli military brigade of genocidal tree-killers identical to the Gestapo Storm Troopers that terrorized 11 million Europeans, including 6 million Jews and 5.5 million gypsies, undesirables, and others?

To which I will add: for centuries now the Olive Tree has been the national tree of Palestine; it is a symbol of peace and resistance. And for centuries the Palestinian landscape’s abundance of olive trees (some of which live for well over 700 years), has been graced with a variegated assortment of olive trees of every genus, shape, size, colour, and yield.

By the almost daily burning and uprooting of trees, especially the olive trees, the Only Democracy in the Middle East is poking its finger into the world’s conscience, a conscience that has, for the past 76 years, gone dormant on Palestine and her destitute children.

Why, In God’s name, was this malevolent and vengefully heinous act against the natural world allowed to occur?  And why, In God’s name, has the world, and especially all the environmental advocacy groups, maintained a deafening silence?

In addition to their daily killing and maiming of Palestinians, the IDF has not only destroyed Palestinian olive groves and large swaths of agricultural lands (including the spraying of destructive chemicals on vegetable fields), but they have also stood by as fanatical Jewish settlers have rampaged through Palestinian villages and towns, stoning and killing defenseless Palestinian civilians, including the torching and bulldozing of their mosques, cemeteries, homes, cars, schools, agricultural lands, wells, and livestock.

Uprooting olive and fruit orchards and vineyards is a favorite Israeli crime against nature, a pastime that has gone unchecked since 1948.

In September and October of 2020 “The most moral army in the world” prevented Palestinian farmers from harvesting their annual olive crops; they stood by and defended large gangs of heavily armed Jewish settlers’ trespassing on Palestinian olive groves; harvesting/stealing the olives under the protective umbrella of heavily armed modern-day Gestapo types is the basest form of vile malevolence and xenophobia.

Since 1967 over one million trees have been uprooted in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. That, reader, is a gargantuan number of living, thriving, bark, roots, limbs and branches of every dimension and genus. Imagine how and what these helpless and faultless living entities would have done for biodiversity (food for wildlife, including birds and bees); an antidote to destructive climate change; and for respecting what some would call God’s other creation of the very image of Himself, an image that, for the three monotheistic religions, began in the garden of Eden – even before Adam and Eve were created to have dominion over the earth.

This crime against nature, best described as ECOCIDE, has gone unabated for 73 years. And, at a time when environmental advocates are pleading and admonishing us to heed nature’s cri de cœur as it pertains to clear-cutting and deforestation, the adverse results of pesticides and herbicides, the chemical discharges into our streams, rivers, and waterways, and the carbon emissions into our air, not a single politician or environmental advocate has decried Israel’s violence against the natural world.

Why? In God’s name, Why?

Isn’t silence a form of complicity?

In Jewish lore, including the Talmud and Torah, trees hold a sacred role in the Jewish faith and daily life. In the 2/4/2019 online Global Ideas edition and under the title “The Value of Trees in Jewish Faith,” the editor stated the following:

Trees play a central role in the Jewish faith with entire holidays dedicated to caring for them. That in turn contributes to the fight against climate change.

Trees are not only important carbon sinks, but they also play a major role in Judaism. “The term ‘Lo Tash’chit’ means you should feel for trees as you do for humans,” Yitzhak Ehrenberg, head of Berlin’s orthodox Jewish community, told magazine Denkanstösse. “A tree is like a person. To us, nature is God’s creation, and we have to respect that creation.” That is why the Jewish culture celebrates an entire holiday dedicated to trees. Tu B’Shevat is believed to be the day that sap rises in trees, and so it is considered the New Year for trees. Almond trees are especially important to the celebration because they are the first to start blooming in Israel. One of the ways the holiday is celebrated is by planting a tree – a direct contribution to the battle against climate change.

If the Berlin Rabbi’s words are true, then why has there not been a single outcry from rabbinical centers around the globe about the obliteration of 10,000 trees in one fell swoop? Is one to assume that some trees, especially if they are nature’s adornment that happens to grow on Palestinian soil, are less deserving of life and are therefore to be desecrated because they are somehow not kosher for a regime intent on stealing what is left of Palestine? 

With an eye for a national office, even then California Senator Kamala Harris climbed the pandering tree while she was procuring Jewish votes at a 2017 AIPAC meeting. Under the title “Harris’ Jewish Angle: She Planted Trees, Loves Israel,” which appeared in The Jewish Star’s August 12, 2020, Harris is quoted as having said the following: “So [sic./no punctuation] having grown up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember those Jewish National Fund boxes that we would use to collect donations to plant trees for Israel, … Years later when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the fruits of that effort and the Israeli ingenuity that has truly made a desert bloom.”

Ah, Pandarus, you whose eponymous nomenclature was popularized by the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer and others, you must be fitfully rolling in your grave at the multitudes of pandering U.S. politicians “on both sides.”

For over 100 years The National Jewish Fund has been urging Diaspora Jews to donate monies towards the purchasing of lands in Palestine and the planting of trees. In addition to personal solicitations, special tree-fund envelopes were placed in the pews of Jewish houses of worship and schools. And sometimes this fundraising bordered on “muscling and shaming” Jewish communities around the world to donate funds to “turn the desert into a blooming Jewish state.”

While it is true that many trees have been planted in Occupied Palestine, very few Israeli officials will acknowledge that these funds have not always been spent on the purported purpose of dotting Israel in a monolithic forest of trees. And hardly anyone will admit that yes, thousands of trees have been planted to cover Israel’s 1948 and 1949 genocidal pulverizing and permanently wiping 550  Palestinian small towns and villages off the face of the earth. While these Palestinian towns and villages are today mere ghosts of their celebrated past, the dirt berms, stones, and contours of walls, roads, wells, homes and village boundaries bear witness to Israel’s genocidal ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

What Kamala Harris and millions of well-meaning Jewish donors around the world did not know was the following: Greed, Lies, misappropriation of funds, these vilest of the human traits-universal, got in the way of planting trees.

On July 3, 2000, Deborah Sontag’s N. Y. Times article under the title “Arboreal Scandal in Israel: Not All of the trees Planted There Stay Planted” bears witness to how the Jewish diaspora was not only shamed into donating hard earned funds, but they were also royally duped:

Last week an Israeli tabloid created a commotion when it ran an investigative article, ”The Great Tree Fraud,” suggesting that workers cynically uproot the saplings planted by tourists to make way for the next day’s busloads.

The newspaper, Maariv, printed three photographs taken from the same vantage point on two consecutive days in late June. One showed tourists busy at work surrounded by dozens of freshly planted trees, the second showed the same site nude but pockmarked, supposedly on the next morning, and the third revealed a nearby pile of uprooted saplings.

Many Israelis said life was imitating art. The tree-planting ritual, a deeply-rooted phenomenon in the culture of the Jewish diaspora, has long been the subject of satirists. A well-known Israeli film, ”Salah Shabati,” features a scene in which the dedication plaque at the entrance to a forest is changed when one group of American Jewish benefactors leaves and another arrives to see ”their” trees.

But Jewish National Fund officials were not amused. Late last week, the fund suspended several workers, and today it established a public investigation committee headed by a former judge.

Officials said they would be horrified to learn that the charges were true, but that if they were, they would represent an isolated case of malfeasance. In a statement prepared by a public relations firm in New York, the fund defended its good intentions and declared that it would file a libel suit against Maariv for maligning the organization.

Audrey Azoulay’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that January 27, 2021, was “a call for vigilance and for action, to address the root causes of hatred and prevent future atrocities from happening” has fallen on deaf ears, especially on Israeli, Saudi, Emirati, Burmese, Chinese, Indian, Syrian, Egyptian, and American ears.

Israelis, in God’s name, when will you stop your incremental genocide against a helpless and powerless nation deserted by the world and their so-called Arab brothers?

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabys7181@outlook.com

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